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Inclusion starts from within

In order to create more inclusive brand experiences, the industry must first look inward

Elena Agulla Gil

Junior UX Designer Beyond

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For the design sector to create truly inclusive experiences for brands, first it needs to understand what inclusion looks like. And for that, we need a more diverse workforce.

Inclusion can’t be left to chance, it needs to be intentional. This goes for the products we create but also the teams we build. Businesses need to proactively look to attract diverse talent to the sector and find new ways to overcome the barriers that prevent individuals from minority backgrounds from accessing education and jobs in the area. Recent research showed that three quarters of young people want to work in the UK’s creative industries but struggle to understand the career pathways. For disadvantaged youths and minorities, this can be an even greater challenge. When you have no industry network, mentors or knowledge of how to apply, breaking into the industry can seem unattainable.

But the obstacles keeping these young people from accessing the design sector are part of a bigger challenge. If our industry doesn’t become more diverse, with more voices from different communities and backgrounds, how can we continue to create products and solutions that meet an increasingly diverse range of end-user requirements?

In this article, I share my own route to design and highlight why internships and training programmes are a crucial way to help young people get a foot in the door and make the industry more accessible for designers from all backgrounds.

If our industry doesn’t become more diverse, with more voices from different communities and backgrounds, how can we continue to create products and solutions that meet an increasingly diverse range of end-user requirements?

Elena Agulla Gil, Junior UX Designer at Beyond

Inclusion in practice

Before we delve deeper into our industry’s makeup, let’s take a look at why diversity is worth pursuing. To put simply, it creates a wider pool of views and experiences from which to draw, which makes it easier to enhance inclusion at every stage and create products that work for everyone.

The good news is that inclusion doesn’t have to be hard to achieve. While extensive branding overhaul can take time, even small changes in design can make a big difference and have the potential to empower someone by making them feel seen. Often it’s the variety of options that matters, allowing users to personalise their experience.

Let’s take gender, for example. As a non-binary person, I can speak to the discomfort of not having more than two options for gender. Providing more options or an open answer by default can dramatically change the experience for users like us. The same goes for gender-stereotypical imagery – is there an alternative way to illustrate what you mean that encapsulates the wonderful diversity of today’s families and relationships? It’s also important to remember that allowing privacy is also inclusion. If you don’t need to know someone’s sex or gender to provide your service, then don’t ask for it  – there are other ways you can personalise the experience.

Lived experience matters

Ultimately, however, it can be difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand how they experience a service or a product and what could make them feel uneasy. That’s why it’s crucial to have the right people in the room during the design phase; if you want to create products for everyone, everyone needs to be part of the conversation. This helps ensure that the design is guided by lived experience, looking from the inside out, resulting in more comprehensive designs that meet a wider range of requirements.

But if you look at the design sector, this presents a problem. While more diverse than some other industries, it is still underrepresented in many ways, with many teams lacking LGBTQ+, non-white and disabled perspectives. Without diversity, design teams are less likely to create experiences that resonate with all users. In addition to providing wider perspectives, it's also been proved that diversity is linked to profitability, with diverse companies outperforming their more homogenous rivals.

However, it’s not simply a question of hiring diverse talent, it’s also about attracting it to the industry.  For many minority groups and people from disadvantaged backgrounds, accessing the design sector is anything but straightforward.

Becoming a UX designer

I can speak from personal experience; I am relatively new to the design industry, and my route here did not follow a traditional path. Instead, I got my start through the Flipside programme, an initiative by east-London creative careers hub A New Direction, which aims to help young people gain the skills, mindset and behaviours they need to get into digital design.

Delivered together with digital design industry leaders - including one of its founding members, digital product agency Beyond - the 12-week programme allows applicants to attend workshops at every participating agency, picking up core skills and building their own industry networks. Following the programme, I applied and was selected for a six-month internship at Beyond, during which I had the chance to work on different client projects and get feedback from the designers. After completing the internship, I received a job offer that allowed me to start my career as a Junior UX designer.

Throughout the programme, the support from the design community was overwhelming – the feeling that all the people involved, from organisers and partner agencies to individual designers, are rooting for you is pretty special. This positive encouragement means a lot at the beginning of your career.

Better and more diverse design

Looking back at my experience entering the industry, I know I have been lucky. I found the programme that was right for me, and today I feel my input is valued when I work on client briefs. There are so many talented people out there who can succeed and make a difference in this industry if they’re just given the opportunity to do so. Initiatives like Flipside make this possible and help enrich the sector through the experiences of people from all communities and backgrounds.

A more diverse industry benefits everyone; brands, consumers, and agencies too – so making it more accessible for everyone should be a priority for every agency.

Guest Author

Elena Agulla Gil

Junior UX Designer Beyond

About

Elena Agulla Gil (they/them) is a Junior UX Designer at Beyond. Passionate about the role of digital product design in improving people’s lives, they joined the company after completing the Flipside digital product design apprenticeship and being selected for a UX design internship. Elena is also a multi-disciplinary artist exploring video, photography and music in their work.

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